Learning Equations

Last week I got to read through feedback teachers sent me about a professional development discussion based on the 3 box model/working memory theory. One of the teachers said “In the end, I guess learning boils down to encoding and retrieval, and that’s what I’m going to focus on as I plan lessons for next year.” 

I liked this concise summary, so I decided to ask my friends on Twitter whether or not this “equation” for learning makes sense:

I don’t really think this “equation” summarizes everything about learning. Teaching and learning are incredibly complex, involve emotion, motivation, passion, relationships, and dozens of other factors. I love this article Stephen Chew wrote about this complexity: “Learning science and the teachable moment.” 

But I’m interested in “simplifications” about learning like this one (even if it is an over-simplification) as ways to start useful discussions. I posted the “equation” on twitter and got this response:

Paul Kirschner’s additions make sense to me: if we think about learning as the sum of encoding and retrieval, it makes more sense to include the idea that learning is the sum of repeated episodes of encoding and retrieval. I may use this version of the “learning equation” to start more conversations with teachers. 

[UPDATE: Dr. Kirschner talks about this in a recent ResearchED talk – worth watching! – “Ten Tips for Emergency Remote Teaching” – this screenshot is from about 4:50 in the video)]

But I will also remember to admit that this is all an oversimplification. I also received this reply on twitter.

I appreciate Erica Kleinknecht’s willingness to post several clarifications about limitations she sees in the 3 box/working memory theory (see this twitter thread: https://twitter.com/eko_cogedu/status/1291498005594439680). I’m interested in the ideas she shares about neural processing and learning, and I’m excited to learn more. I find cognitive load theory theory incredibly useful in my thinking about teaching and learning (see “Cognitive load theory: Research that teachers really need to understand”), but I don’t want to fall into the trap of falling in love with a theory and letting that infatuation limit my ability to think about teaching and learning in other ways. 

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